Movie Mom

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material
Release Date:
November 21, 2014

 

If I Stay
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

Foxcatcher
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence
Release Date:
November 21, 2014

 

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

Rosewater
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language including some crude references, and violent content
Release Date:
November 14, 2014

 

Into the Storm
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense destruction and peril, and language including some sexual references
Release Date:
August 8, 2014

Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties

posted by jmiller
C-
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for some off-color elements.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

This is lowest common denominator movie-making. Why not, it’s based on a lowest-common denominator comic strip.


Garfield’s lighter-than-air comic strip is utterly generic because its motivating force is not art or comedy but commerce; the less distinctive the character or situations, the better suited to appearing on everything from greeting cards and car air freshener to pizza and slot machines. Garfield is not a cat; he is a brand, as this excellent article in Slate explains.


Thus, we have this sequel, like the first movie, designed to work appeal to as broad an audience as possible in and outside the US. So the focus is on crude jokes that are universally understood and not much attention is paid to details like the fact that the title recalls Charles Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities” but the plot is taken from Mark Twain’s “The Prince and the Pauper.” Or that some of the animals are animated and some are real; some can talk and some cannot.


Garfield (the computer animated cat with the voice of Bill Murray) and Odie (an actual dog with no human voice) stow away when their owner, Jon (Breckin Meyer) flies to London to propose to his girlfriend, Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt), a vet. Garfield changes places with his look-alike, a fat orange tabby named Prince (the very plummy voice of Tim Curry) who is even more pampered than he is. When Dargis (Billy Connelly) tries to get rid of Prince so he can inherit a huge estate, he is in for double trouble.


It’s all obvious and synthetic, derivative to the point of plagiarism (there is a “mirror” scene lifted from both Duck Soup and “I Love Lucy”), but those who are happy just to see animals talk and bad guys get hit in the crotch will find some mild enjoyment.

Parents should know that the movie has some crude humor, including bathroom jokes and a dog biting a character in the crotch. There are some rude schoolyard terms and there is some comic peril and violence, including characters being threatened with a gun and a crossbow, but no one is hurt.


Families who see this movie should talk about why Prince and Garfield are so important to their owners. And they should make some lasagna!


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original and the many books of Garfield cartoons.

Cars

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated G
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

Look closely at the little flying bugs buzzing and bumping in the hot light of the desert. They are, of course, Bugs: VW Bugs with wings. In the world of this story, all of the characters are cars and all of the world around them is car-iffic. Even the buttes of Monument Valley — excuse me, I mean Ornament Valley — are shaped like car features.


It has all of the flawless technical facility we have come to rely on from Pixar, but this time the story does not quite match the wow-factor of the visuals. The result is perfectly entertaining but it does not have the power of Finding Nemo or The Incredibles. Those films tapped into profound themes about the way parents and children interact with the big, scary outside world where danger and adventure are. “Cars” has a standard story about friendship and standard characters — the veteran, the upstart, the comic bumpkin who knows things that the city slicker still has to learn, and the story sags a bit in the middle. As far as the script goes, “Cars” is a little bit pedestrian.


It starts with the biggest race of the year. All eyes are on three competitors — the reigning champion (voiced by race car veteran Richard Petty), perennial runner-up Chick Hicks (voice of Michael Keaton), and the rookie, Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson), who takes pride in being a loner. A three-way tie means there has to be another race, one of the biggest ever, to take place a week later, in California.


Lightning is in a hurry to get to there early so he can ingratiate himself with the champion’s sponsor, but he gets sidetracked and ends up in a little town called Radiator Springs, far from the interstate highway. He gets into trouble and the local judge (voice of Paul Newman) sentences him to repairing the road before he can leave. With the help of a sweet-natured tow truck named Tow Mater (voice of Larry the Cable Guy) and a spirited blue Porsche with a law degree who runs the local motel (voice of Bonnie Hunt), Lighting learns some lessons about friendship, cooperation, and even about racing and what it really means to win.


Pixar, as always, creates a thrillingly imaginative but always believeable world with eye-filling details. We believe these are cars, but we also believe they are characters. They have all of the properties of steel and paint and rubber but all of the expressiveness of human eyes and mouths and even noses. Wilson’s slacker surf bum voice is just right for Lightning and Newman gives Doc warmth and wisdom. But the story and characters are not as engrossing as the visuals. The script has a too-many-cooks feeling and it’s about fifteen minutes too long, ten of which is mostly Larry the Cable Guy. And there’s something a little hollow in the endorsement of homespun, non-commercial values in a film so relentlessly marketed, its endorsement of low-tech delivered through technology that is many degrees of separation from paintbrush and cel. Pixar’s lesser effort still beats most of what plays in theaters, but we realize during the credit sequence that it has more heart and humor than the movie that came before it.

Parents should know that there is some brief G-rated crude language and mild crude humor and vandalism. Characters are in peril and there is some mild violence, but no one gets hurt.


Families who see this movie should talk about how different ways of saying “yeah, okay” can mean different things. Why did Lightning think he liked to do things by himself? Doc and Sally had different reasons for coming to Radiator Springs. What were they? Families who see this film should also talk about their favorite car trips and where they would like to go on the next one. They can find out more about Route 66 here or here.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the other Pixar films, including A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 1 and 2, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles. They will also enjoy other family movies featuring cars, including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the Herbie movies, starting with The Love Bug, and The Great Race.

The Omen

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated R for disturbing violent content, graphic images and some language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

Director John Moore knows one thing — how to compose some compelling images with swirling white (flakes of snow, scraps of paper) and something creepy and scarlet to catch your eye. But those swirling flakes and glimpses of red have more movement than the film itself; most of it is just a bunch of static set-pieces that will be overly familiar to anyone who has ever heard a ghost story.


As in the 1976 original starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, a mysterious priest tells Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber), an American diplomat, that his newborn baby has died. Another woman has just died in childbirth, and the priest persuades Robert to take that child as his own, telling no one about the substitution, not even his wife Katherine (Julia Stiles).


As Robert achieves extraordinary success, becoming Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Katherine is left to care for the child, Damien. But Katherine cannot feel close to him and many disturbing incidents and dead bodies later, Robert begins to learn the truth about Damien’s real parents.


Scheiber acts as though he’d rather be back in Ukraine directing Everything is Illuminated. He and Stiles (who played siblings in Hamlet) are supposed to have a loving relationship, but there is no chemistry whatsoever. Indeed, hardly anyone in this movie seems to have any connection with anyone else; it’s as though each actor performed in front of a blue screen and chroma-keyed in later. The only exceptions are Mia Farrow as Damien’s mysterious nanny (and what a trippy experience it is to see the star of Rosemary’s Baby playing the Ruth Gordon-ish role) and David Thewlis as a photographer who discovers a strange stripe of smoke as a portent in his pictures of people who are later killed.


There’s a long tradition of stories based on scary evil children. It taps into some nicely primal and disturbing feelings we have about these adorable creatures who take over our lives. But when it isn’t done well, it just seems silly, and this child’s supposedly feral stares just seem petulant.

Yes, the gory gross-outs are there, with various characters getting impaled, beheaded, hanged, and knocked off a balcony. But the in between scenes, what is supposed to be a creepy increasing dread is just time to check your watch and munch some popcorn before the bad stuff starts up again. If it gets too dull, you might try counting the parallels to “Harry Potter,” with two of the same actors and a similar theme of a young boy with strange powers revealed at a zoo….


Parents should know that this is an intense and creepy thriller about the spawn of the devil. There are graphic scenes of peril, injury, and death. Characters drink and use some bad language. Some audience members may be disturbed or offended by the portrayal of some clergy and a devil child.


Families who see this movie should talk about why Robert agreed to the priest’s proposal and why he did not tell Katherine or anyone else what he was learning about Damien. Families may also want to discuss their own beliefs about God and the devil.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Da Vinci Code, The Name of the Rose, Rosemary’s Baby (starring Farrow),and the original.

A Prairie Home Companion

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for risque humor.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

Garrison Keillor’s voice is a national treasure. It is so warm, so magnetic, even hypnotic that it lulls you into a whole different dimension, an idealized past located somewhere between innocent nostalgia and ironic self-awareness, as though Norman Rockwell painted an episode of “Seinfeld.” His long-running radio program appeals to those who appreciate the authenticity of the roots music, performed with utter sincerity, and the slyly skewed humor that keeps it from getting sugary. He tells stories of Lake Woebegon (“Where the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average”) and has faux ads for products like Powdermilk Biscuits, which “give shy people the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.” Keillor may be the only one in history to keep happy both the sentimentalists who love Kinkade and the cynics who love po-mo happy, each thinking they’re the only ones who really get him.

The film describes the radio program as one that “died 50 years ago but someone forgot to tell them — until tonight.” Keillor is nostalgic, faux-nostalgic, and a commentator on nostalgia all at the same time.


Director Robert Altman is a perfect match for Keillor’s sensibility, and this intimate, backstage look at the radio program’s last broadcast mingles real (with some of Keillor’s regulars as themselves) with fiction (Kevin Kline as Keillor character Guy Noir, Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin as singing sisters and Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly as singing cowboys who love bad jokes — and of course the radio program is not on a commercial network and is not ending) and fantasy (Virginia Madsen as a mysterious and mysteriously powerful stranger). The narrative is more layered than the radio program and Altman’s understated documentary style never intrudes, but no fleshing out can possibly compare to the complexity and intimacy of a listener’s imagination.


Parents should know that the movie has some strong and crude language, some sexual references, sexual humor and sexual situations, reference to suicide, and deaths of characters (at least one sad).


Families who see this movie should talk about the enduring appeal of Keillor’s radio program. What can you tell about the relationship between Yolanda and Rhonda? Yolanda and GK? How does the relationship of Yolanda and Lola change and why?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the beloved radio show. They will also enjoy some of Altman’s other ensemble movies like Nashville and Gosford Park. You can also sign up to get daily emails with Keillor’s Writer’s Alamanac, a daily poem and literary trivia segment broadcast on NPR.

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